DA association criticizes Kane, backs Sandusky prosecutors

Kathleen G. Kane, state attorney general.
Kathleen G. Kane, state attorney general.
Posted: July 03, 2014

This story was updated Wednesday at 1:30 p.m.

The leadership of the association for district attorneys in Pennsylvania on Tuesday criticized state Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane for comments that "disparaged" the prosecutors who convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky.

The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, in a statement endorsed by its executive committee, said that recommendations made by a law professor who investigated the Sandusky case were "overshadowed by the attorney general's continued public attacks on the successful work of career prosecutors."

"The focus on winning the news cycle must end," the committee said in the statement.

It also chastised Kane for making remarks that have "already been proven to be incorrect."

That was an especially blunt shot at Kane, whose office last week admitted she misspoke when she said that the prosecutors had failed to bring charges on behalf of one of Sandusky's victims.

A day later, her staff acknowledged that the victim in question had testified at Sandusky's trial and that the former Penn State assistant coach had been convicted of molesting him.

Late Tuesday, Kane responded in a statement, saying that she had highlighted valid points made by the consultant that were critical of the Sandusky probe.

"There is no question that there were inexplicable delays and failures to take basic investigative steps early on in this investigation," she said.

She also said the Office of Attorney General, or OAG, learned about the statement first from The Inquirer, which was given the statement to be published Wednesday in its op-ed section, Dialogue.

"It is ironic that they would argue for ending the focus on the news cycle by submitting their statement to the media instead of this office since the media received this letter before the OAG did," Kane said. "Our focus is on protecting children rather than trying to score political points."

The association's statement was approved Monday by both Republican and Democratic district attorneys on the 12-member executive committee, according to Rich Long, executive director of the association.

He declined to reveal the vote count, but a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be named said that all three Democrats on the panel voted in support of the statement.

The association represents the 67 county district attorneys in Pennsylvania.

It is signed by the association's three top officers - president David J. Freed, the district attorney in Cumberland County; vice president Peter Johnson, of Union County; and secretary/treasurer Risa Vetri Ferman, of Montgomery County.

All three are Republicans. Freed was the GOP candidate for attorney general in 2012. He was soundly defeated by Kane, the Democratic nominee.

In that race, Kane campaigned hard on the theme that Republican Tom Corbett, who was the attorney general before becoming governor, might have slowed down the Sandusky investigation for political reasons.

Political analysts agree that she gained considerable public support by tapping into the anger and frustration among Penn State alumni over the impact the Sandusky case had on the university's reputation.

Last week, Kane unveiled a report she commissioned from a law professor and former federal prosecutor to examine the Sandusky probe.

The consultant, H. Geoffrey Moulton Jr., rejected Kane's suggestion that politics impeded the investigation but did fault the prosecutors for tactical errors that he said had bogged down the probe.

In their statement, the district attorneys said they "never perceived a need for the [Moulton] investigation." They said Kane's complaint had arisen "not from evidence," but from campaign "talking points."

Their statement praised Moulton for producing a report that was "seriously undertaken, professionally written, and measured in its conclusions."

G. Terry Madonna, a political analyst at Franklin and Marshall College, said the statement by the district attorneys was a blow to Kane's image.

"Being rebuked in a sense by your prosecutorial colleagues is about as damaging an element for an incumbent officeholder as you can find," Madonna said.

He said he could not recall county prosecutors criticizing the state's top prosecutor before. "This is unprecedented," he said.

The district attorneys, by criticizing Kane, rallied to the defense of Frank G. Fina, the former deputy attorney general who led the investigation that ended with Sandusky's conviction on charges of molesting 10 young men.

Fina said Tuesday that he and other prosecutors who had built the Sandusky case were buoyed by the statement.

"We are deeply touched," he said. "There could be no better tribute than those words."

Kane has also been at odds with Seth Williams, the Democratic district attorney in Philadelphia and a member of the association's executive committee.

Williams defended Fina, who is now assigned to his public-corruption unit, after Kane said he had botched a sting investigation while working for the Attorney General's Office. According to sources and investigative documents, that sting captured four state lawmakers and a former Traffic Court judge on tape taking payments from an undercover operative.

Accepting a challenge from Kane, Williams has agreed to examine the evidence in the sting cases to see if charges are warranted.

Madonna said the twin controversies had cost her politically and "maybe diminished her effectiveness."

cmccoy@phillynews.com

215-854-4821 @CraigRMcCoy

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